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A Declaration of Love to its 200th Birthday Odessa - Farbe und Licht Odessa - Color and Light

Lachauer, Ulla. "A Declaration of Love to its 200th Birthday Odessa – Farbe und Licht Odessa – Color and Light." Die Zeit, no. 33, 19 August 1994.

Translation of German to English by Alice Morgenstern


With this heading the German weekly DIE ZEIT tells the readers the story of the Black Sea city and describes it as a place of charm and beauty .In spite of the years of Soviet government neglect, this metropole has preserved an outstanding cosmopolitan atmosphere. Now that its bicentenary is being celebrated, the city has become 200 years old on August 22, it is worth while to retell its development.

With 1.2 million inhabitants, it is the second largest city of the Ukraine. Tsarina Catherine the Great ordered a Black Sea port to be founded after the Russian victory over the Turks. Even the name is connected with one of her whims. First, the name should recall an ancient Greek colony 'Odessos', but Catherine preferred something in the female line, and Odessos was turned into Odessa.

The first settlers were the soldiers of the garrison. Soon followed by refugees mostly from the Osman Empire: Greeks, Armenians etc. Specialists for various trades were invited to settle there. They came from Central Europe, and Germans were among them.

One of the first and the most effective governors was a French duke, himself being a refugee from the French Revolution, the Duke Richelieu. He is considered to be the true founder of the city. His statue, erected in 1826 at a prominent boulevard, has never been demolished or even removed. He still overlooks the staircase that played such an important part in the famous Eisenstein film, “Armoured cruiser Potemkin. "

Soon the city gained wealth with its Mediterranean trade, which by the way was carried on in Italian. The first newspaper was written in French. The city was renowned for its liberalism. In fact it was believed to be the most liberal city in the Russian Empire.

This spirit can still be felt. People are proud to be "Odessites". To feel proud about one's hometown is considered to be somewhat exotic in the GUS. But Odessites are Odessites in the first place, no matter whether they belong to the poor or to the prosperous.

It is true, the city has suffered from neglect, and problems are great, as elsewhere in the GUS. The state is bankrupt, the inflation rate immense, there is unemployment, shortage of fuel, and the danger of epidemics. But at least the city was not damaged in the Second World War, thanks to the fact that it had been put under Rumanian control between 1941-1944.

The real victims, there as elsewhere, were the Jewish population who had formed a considerable minority. The Jewish intelligentsia was persecuted in the Stalin era. In the forties the Rumanians delivered the Jews to special Nazi units, and consequently they were doomed to be extinguished in the concentration camps.

After the war many Jews who had survived, came to stay in Odessa, but Jewish religious life had ceased to exist. Most of them were or are still waiting for the chance to emigrate, either to Israel or preferably to the US or to Berlin (The latest development in this matter).

Odessa has always been a city of contrasts. In the olden days there were the spacious boulevards, but also the narrow quarters of the poor, the Moldowanka e.g., where the writer Isaak Babel had once lived, and where there had been friendly neighbourship among people of various races.

Contrasts exist everywhere. Streets have got back their old names, but some of the Soviet name plates have not been removed. There is a Dior shop, and there is the statue of Lenin still standing upright. The Planetarium will soon be what it once was, the main church of the Orthodox, and the Odessites hope that their harbor will become "porta franca” again, a free port.

And especially with the bicentenary they wish that the world should see them as they see
themselves and give them a chance.

Our appreciation is extended to Alice Morgenstern for translation of this article.

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